Straw Dogs (1971)
In 1971 critics and moviegoers whipped themselves into a frenzy over how far films should go in their depiction of violence, largely as a result of two movies released weeks apart: A Clockwork Orange and Straw Dogs. The former was thoughtfully considered as a piece of art, due to director Stanley Kubrick's reputation and its literary origins. Dogs director Sam Peckinpah was derided as a violence-loving, misogynistic yahoo for his tale of a young couple besieged on their isolated farm by drunken yokels. Straw Dogs isn't easy viewing, even by today's standards, but it's no wallow in violence for violence's sake either. Dustin Hoffman plays David Sumner, a meek American scientist who has retreated to the British countryside with his comely English wife (Susan George). An alien in this insular culture, he is perceived as weak by the loutish locals, whose torments build up to a graphic gang rape (the scene that stirred the most contention). When David finally takes his stand and, using a scientist's fertile mind, finds many imaginative uses for objects laying about his old farmhouse, the close-quarters siege has all the violence of Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch, compressed within four walls. As Hoffman takes David from milquetoast to berserker, the transformation is startling, showing a man fighting for his life--and, as Peckinpah very much wanted us to consider, enjoying it.